Choosing Home in the Age of Climate Change
By Ernesto Velazquez
We hear about climate change and its effects on species’ habitat. Most of us watch, horrified, the suffering of drowning polar bears in the melting artic ice and famine in drought-stricken areas bringing death and conflict to the innocent. Privileged by the randomness of having been born in a developed nation, we believe ourselves invulnerable.
But change can happen instantaneously – witness the flooding of Houston or the recent history-making wildfires in California. We must stop to consider the vulnerability of the place we call home in the context of a warming planet and weigh out its resilience in the face of climate change (also called climate chaos).
Recent events seem to have brought the ferocity of weather phenomena to our doorsteps with super storms battering northeastern shores and never-ending droughts depleting even the most stable aquifers and spurring water shortages. How resilient is our home to climate change? For our purpose, we will define home as the space that you and/or your loved ones occupy.
Much like ancient Lords and Ladies protecting their castles from enemy attacks, we want to make sure our castles stand strong against the hostilities that are evolving as our planet becomes increasingly warm and angry. Hope lies in the collective effort of all of us to protect the kingdom, Mother Earth.
Water, that most basic compound of life, will become our most formidable foe or ally. Each region of the world will either become dryer or have increased precipitation as global climate changes. Depending on what region you call home, these changes may be beneficial or detrimental.
Changing water cycles in an increasingly warmer planet will determine the habitability of the space we call home.
Independent of less rain or more rain, ocean water levels are another point of contention. As the planet warms and Greenland and Antarctica ice melt, our oceans are rising. A recent scientific study analyzing 25 years of NASA and European satellite data concluded that sea level rise is not constant over time, as previously thought, and is instead accelerating incrementally. These findings are of grave concern given the percentage of individuals that live in coastal cities and rely on their vital infrastructure such as ports, power plants and roads. Coastal infrastructure supports inland populations and a disruption of one is an inevitable disruption of the other. Images of New Orleans and Houston underwater and the devastation of super storm Sandy will become more common as extreme weather becomes more frequent and more intense.
In the U.S., we tend to stay in our homes 14 years on average. So, our projections for the habitability of where we call home or where we want to call home can be based on this average. As current or prospective home owners, we should be asking the question; how resilient is my home region to climate change? If you live in the Jersey coast, ask: is my home increasingly exposed to the possibility of super storms? If you live in Houston, ask: is my home at an ever-increasing risk of flooding? Will I even be able to get flood insurance? Should we buy that beach front condo in Florida or Puerto Rico? What about that very affordable coastal lot in the Carolina’s for our dream retirement home?
On the other extreme of the water spectrum, we have decreased precipitation that is stressing the water supply for entire regions. Scientists predict we will have longer and more severe droughts. Droughts are typically cyclical in nature and they will occur independent of climate change. However, much like other weather phenomena in the age of global warming, scientists are predicting longer and more severe droughts.
According to Environmental Science.org, “Droughts affect just about every human within the region and have the potential to spread nationwide or worldwide depending on the economic damage. If the drought covers an extended period of time or is especially harsh, conflicts arise between individuals over water rights and land value is impacted. Droughts have the potential to alter the quality of life through the loss of land, livelihood or health consequences from lower water and air quality. Water quality lowers because contaminates become more concentrated as the water evaporates (10). Air quality lowers due to an increase in particulate matter as a result of greater soil erosion”.
So before moving to the southwest and western regions of the U.S., or to Southern Spain, for example, drought should be a consideration now and in the future.
We could, in our response to the overwhelming predictions, throw up our hands and say, “what can I do; I am just a single human being?”
Instead, we can imagine millions of us conscientiously not throwing up our hands but making a value-oriented decision to act in the interest of family, including future generations that will need a place to call home.
How many millions will those millions affect? In the words of John Lennon, IMAGINE. It’s not difficult, start with small changes, like take shorter showers, use LED lights, and collect rain water for non-potable use.
Our planet and your great-great grandchildren will be grateful.
Ernesto Velazquez is an environmental activist residing in Philadelphia with an interest in disruptive green business practices, organic food production and distribution. He is currently pursuing graduate studiesin Sustainability and Environmental Management at Harvard University.